Thousands of Jews rally against Hamas
The sign taped to the front of 10-month-old Ezra Wiesenberg read: "The IDF don't hide behind me! Stop Hamas abuse of children shields." Strapped to his mother Ann's chest, Ezra and his family had travelled with thousands of other Jews to London's to Trafalgar Square in London yesterday for a pro-Israeli rally calling for peace in the Middle East but also supporting the Israeli government's actions in Gaza.
Across the street, behind a cordon, the Rabbi Avraham Greenberg took his Israeli passport from its plastic wallet and slowly set it on fire with a gas lighter until its ashes floated around him. He explained to the small crowd on the pavement that he had been born in the state of Israel but he was ashamed to hold a passport from that country. He stood with more than a dozen Orthodox rabbis who joined in chants of "Judaism here to stay, Zionism no way".
But many more thousands of Jews attended in support of the rally rather than opposing it, waving Israeli flags and placards saying End Hamas Terror and wearing Stars of David on their faces.
Henry Grunwald, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told the crowd, which was estimated at 15,000 by the organisers: "We are the people who want peace and who want life for Israel." The chief rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, gave a message to Hamas: "Stop wanting Israel to die, start wanting your children to live. Why, Hamas, do you hold in contempt, not only Israeli lives but Palestinian lives?"
To applause, Ron Prosor, the Israeli ambassador to the UK, said: "The age of terrorism must be brought to a close so that together we can build an age of peace. Our soldiers are doing their duty with honour, dignity and sacrifice."
Listening to the speeches, Myer Malin, an 85-year-old Normandy veteran from Pinner in London, stood wearing his own medals and those of his father, who fought in the first world war. "I have come in support of Israel because they are under attack by Hamas and they have been unfairly represented in the press and media generally. Hamas provoked a war quite deliberately, the way they seized power in Gaza is comparable to the way Hitler seized power in Germany – they got themselves in a good position with the welfare service and promptly evicted the opposition.
"In this case, I think there is no such thing as disproportion, if you have got a war to fight then you fight."
Tania Schwartz, from north London, was furious and wanted to know where the media had been "for the last eight years when the rockets have been landing in Israel". She shouted: "Do you know that kids there wet the bed from fear? The moment the rockets stop, the Israeli soldiers will stop, they are desperate to get out of there and get home. But if it doesn't stop, the next time it will be Tel Aviv and Israel will be extinct."
Standing nearby, David Fordham, 49, from Hatch End, said his reasons for coming were very much different to those of Schwartz. "Some of us are here not because of Israel, but because we are concerned for our Jewish kids on the street, because there are Muslim kids who think if they beat up a Jewish kid or smash up a Jewish shop they are striking a blow for Kashmir or Palestine. People are shouting deaths to Jews and running amok in Golders Green. We are saying " Jews cannot get pushed around in this country". I have got kids at university and I am really concerned for them."
As the crowd around the square's frozen fountains sang the British and Israeli national anthems, Ann Wiesenberg, originally from New York, said of the protest sign on her baby son: "We feel that very often Hamas is actually putting children in front of them. We are highlighting the point that the IDF don't hide behind ci©vilians. They are putting their own soldiers at risk so as to kill as few civilians as possible."
Her husband, Andrew, said: "Hamas terrorism is like a cancer really – unfortunately. When you treat cancer you kill some of the innocent blood cells. We regret any loss of human life. The cancer analogy is very important – you don't stop before you finish the course of treatment, otherwise it will come back stronger."
As he spoke, a well-dressed middle-aged woman walked past – clearly not having planned to attend the rally – and shouted: "Shame on you Israel."The crowd, marshalled by hundreds of officials from the Community Security Trust, the organisation in charge of security for Britain's Jews and their institutions, as well as by the Metropolitan police, mostly dispersed after an hour, though a die-hard bunch lingered to exchange shouts across the barricades with the counter demonstrators. They pushed at the fluorescent yellow line of police officers that held them in as a speaker with a megaphone said: "now you know what it is like to be squeezed into a small piece of land and pushed by an oppressor".
©The rally followed a large protest against the military action in Gaza in London on Saturday, during which violent clashes broke out.